Because there is so much grief in the world, I try to celebrate pretty much anything. A grandchild’s good test score is cause for celebration. Miami temperatures that dip below 70 provide another reason to indulge. And a morning, any morning, that I can sleep past 5 a.m. also merits general merriment. Joy is fleeting, sometimes hard to come by, and it’s best to relish it upon arrival.
So you can imagine my absolute delight when I read that Ford selected Miami-Dade County, my home, to be the first large-scale test site of its new self-driving cars. Really, really, really, the future is clambering up my front porch. (Oh, be still my heart!)
“The cars will be traveling throughout the county to test their readiness to handle a challenging urban environment like Dade — and give residents a sense of what the future of transit could look like,” The Miami Herald reports. “Though they will be controlled by computer, the cars will feature a human ‘safety driver’ as backup.”
Sure, it’s going to be a while before a driverless car is parked in my driveway, but already some are delivering pizza from Domino’s. I’m half tempted to order an extra cheese with pepperoni in hopes of witnessing the miracle. After all, navigating Miami traffic is nothing short of one. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if you can drive Miami’s roads, you can drive anywhere. My hometown earns the honor of being the 10th most congested city in the world and the fifth in the U.S., according to the most recent study from the global analysis firm INRIX.
That dubious accomplishment has been years in the making. I’ve been driving — admittedly, some days more carefully than others — since I was 16. In the ensuing decades, Miami traffic has become a nerve-wrecking, heart attack-inducing, nail-biting, road rage-generating experience. Rush hour lasts all day and even weekends are a nightmare. Too many cars, bad infrastructure support, not enough public transportation. So, yes, having “someone” drive for me is appealing.
I don’t dislike driving. It serves its purpose: essentially to get me from Point A to Point B. But unlike some people who love settling into the leather seat of their dream car, I’d rather be doing something that doesn’t involve foul language and air traffic controller attention. Like eating. Sleeping. Reading.
It wasn’t always like this. Back in the day driving was special. A learner’s permit marked a milestone on the long and winding road to adulthood. We even entertained ourselves watching classmates’ attempts at parallel parking in driver’s ed class. For my five children, it was much the same. Driving was synonymous with independence.
Those memories now feel pre-historic.
With Uber, Lyft and social media offering options to connect, there’s no need to beg parents for the car keys. Teens are not only driving less, fewer are also getting licenses. That little deuce coupe of adolescent dreams? It may be going the way of eight-track tapes and VHS.
I’ve seen plenty of driverless cars on my visits to Silicon Valley, where it’s routine to spot a Waymo auto on the road, and I am so looking forward to pulling up next to one at home. But I’m in the minority. Almost 60 percent of my fellow Americans told Gallup that they would be uncomfortable riding in a self-driving car, and a whopping 69 percent would be uneasy sharing the road with self-driving trucks.
Me, I don’t get the reluctance. I’m ready — absolutely pumped — to hand the car keys over to a responsible entity. After all, this is one area in which technology has proven safer than the wackos I’ve encountered on the road.